It was like looking into the sun. The driver of the oncoming car refused to dim his headlights. The next moment my Land Cruiser station wagon hit a huge, unseen pothole. The trailer I had in tow swayed dangerously. I was alone and although it was night, I had to stop and check for damage. All was OK, but before I could get back into the vehicle, a car stopped behind me. Two guys – one black and the other white – got out and approached me offering help, which I politely declined.
The black guy then grabbed me from behind and at gun-point forced me back into the driver’s seat. The other one entered the vehicle through the back door, sat behind me and put a knife to my throat, and demanded money. It wasn’t a big knife, but he said it was razor-sharp and he would slit my throat if I made one wrong move. I thought about the sheath knife on my belt. It was a custom hunting knife I had made myself, spending two years on its construction. It was beautiful with an impala-horn handle, fitting my hand like a glove. Normally it would do fine for self-defense, but under present conditions it was useless.
Weapons of defence
I itched to react with the holstered 9mm Luger on my other hip, but I knew I would be dead before I could fire a shot. I convinced them I had no money and they ordered me to drive until we reached a particularly dark and lonely area. There, I was ordered to stop. They demanded my cell phone and my home number and they phoned my wife. Pretending to be police they told her I had been arrested, but no charges would be brought if she brought some money. Suspecting a joke, she laughed them off and refused to come. This infuriated them and the white guy started to ransack the vehicle for anything of value. I knew it was my chance, but with the gunman still covering me, I had to be careful. Next to my seat was a can of pepper spray – my ultimate weapon for the situation.
Lowering my hand stealthily in the dark, ensuring the correct grip and taking a deep breath, I swung into action. First I sprayed the gunman behind me full in the face and when the other guy in front turned to attack me, he got the same. The effect was instantaneous. Screaming and swearing they bailed out as soon as they could find the door handles. Wheezing, sneezing and with eyes streaming I sped off, hoping the trailer would run over the gunman who had exited at the back. After a few kilometres I stopped, turned around, opened all the windows, and gun in hand waited for them. But they didn’t follow. By being prepared I not only survived, but emerged victorious. I lost nothing, not even my cell phone and all I suffered was a very smelly car that took ages to freshen up.
Not long afterwards, however, I sadly lost my handmade knife in the veld, but I have never lost my interest in beautiful knives and have quite a collection of them. Then trout fishing last week in Belfast, the weather was very unfavourable and it rained most of the week. So, instead of fishing, I paid a visit to Heavin Forge, the knife- making studio and school of the master bladesmiths Kevin and Heather Harvey. Here I heard that the minister of what is actually Unsafety and Insecurity – who a while ago said we should rather leave the country if we’re not happy with the crime rate – has as of 1 February gazetted a notice under the Dangerous Weapons Act. It could have far-reaching implications for many field sportspeople. On one hand the notice is very broad and inclusive, and on the other, very specific. It could in effect outlaw or severely limit the possession of certain “dangerous weapons”.
One would presume the legislation would be an attempt to curb the avalanche of murders, assaults, rapes and other violent crime that has hit this country since 1994. If however you examine the list of “dangerous weapons” you soon realise it’s not only farcical, but one of the most insane pieces of intended legislation to see the light of day outside of Zimbabwe.
Just as ill-considered as the Firearms Control Act, which after years of futile public attempts to assist incompetent officials to turn it into something practical, it’s just another measure that would erode the freedom of law-abiding citizens and make us more defenceless and vulnerable against the AK47 and R4 wielding low-life thugs who force us to barricade ourselves behind high walls, razor wire and security bars.
Apart from all swords, bayonets, assegais and flick knives, the list also includes, among other things, airguns, BB guns, spear guns, dart guns, bows and arrows, blow pipes and darts, slingshots and catapults (ketties). Also all pangas, cattle prods, daggers and any knife with a blade longer than 10cm, as well as any object used for attack or defense in martial arts are listed. Although some news reports stressed that pepper spray is not listed, careful scrutiny of the notice reveals there’s nothing that excludes it either. Any object made or modified to injure or disable (and few things disable like pepper spray) or any object (such as a toy gun) that may cause anyone to fear that he may be harmed, would be prohibited, unless made from transparent material or if it’s bright orange or green in colour. If this notice becomes law no one may be in possession of any of these weapons in any area where the general public has access, including public roads.
Section 3(1) of the Notice also prohibits the manufacture of any of these objects and which may only be sold or supplied face-to-face, not through mail or e-mail, but by a registered dealer to a person older than 18 years who is in possession of a green bar-coded identity document. The transaction must in addition be recorded in a register reflecting the buyer’s full name, identity and address as well as the purpose of the purchase. Some people would be exempt from these regulations including the police, the defense force, correctional services, security companies, museums, film and television producers, theatrical companies, registered dealers, legitimate collectors, lawful sports participants and others whose lawful employment demand that they have these items in their possession. The rest of us would be guilty of an offence if one has a pepper spray, kettie, airgun or a cattle prod in one’s car on a public road.
How can I go on a camping holiday if I may not take along my panga – which is better for chopping wood than an axe – or my large camping or kitchen knives, my bread knife or my fish fillet knife? Not even my steak knives, which are 11cm long? When hunting I need my big butcher’s knife and when I’m alone in the bush I carry a big sheath knife for protection. Those would all be forbidden. Are they crazy? How vulnerable does the government want us to be? Law-abiding criminals? Anybody with a brain the size of a golf ball could tell that the restrictions would have little or no effect on the rate of violent crime. Only people who already obey the law would heed them, and in any case about half of all objects in an ordinary household could be used to commit a murder. You could slit someone’s throat with a sharp penknife while the notorious Okapi knife, which is used in more stabbings than any other, has a 9cm blade. After all, many serial murderers use nothing more than their bare hands to strangle their victims. In fact, none of these restrictions have any effect as long as the basic law that you may not murder or rape is not upheld and ruthlessly enforced.
The regulations would make no difference to criminals, but to many of us they will. Take the case of our custom knifemakers, some of whom have received international recognition. To many it isn’t just a hobby, but a profession. How the contradictions in the regulations would affect them is still unclear – on the one hand the manufacture of most of their handiwork would be illegal and on the other it’s stipulated that only a registered dealer with a shop may sell it. They are not shopkeepers. Most of their business is done by e-mail or at outdoor shows or even at flea markets. That would be illegal.
A potential violation of rights
This potential restriction on our civil freedom should be everybody’s concern. Every right-minded person and all field sportspeople should do what they can to stop it. The complete notice can be found at www.pmg.org.za/gazettes. The public have six weeks to comment and a month of that has already passed, so, unfortunately there are only a few days left. Hurry and let your voice be heard. Send all comments to director J Slabbert at [email protected]. – Abré J Steyn Contact Abré J Steyn on 083 235 4822 or e-mail [email protected], Skype name: abrejsteyn
Pic: Some of my camp cutlery. Second from the top is a 11cm steak knife, which would be prohibited. The kettie is used to chase marauding baboons out of the camp and next to it, the pepper spray that was used in this story. The three big knives are (4th, right to left): My heavy duty hunting knife; my sheath knife for protection when alone in the bush; and my heavy-duty fishing knife. All could be prohibited. In contrast, the Okapi on the left has a deadly reputation, but the 9cm blade makes it legal.